I have learned that McLaren would have made Lewis Hamilton the top-paid driver in Formula One if he had opted to stay with them and not puzzlingly abandon them for strugglers Mercedes. And that would have meant a basic salary exceeding the £15 million-a-year (Dh89.65 million) the German Grand Prix outfit are paying the 28-year-old to switch to them on a three-year deal.
Given his universal fame and marketability, Hamilton can be confident he can at least double his basic take-home pay with lucrative and massive sponsorship deals on top of any performance bonuses offered by a team anxious to rule the Formula One world again.
But McLaren supremo Ron Dennis, who developed Hamilton from being a kid kart racer at 14 to F1 world champ in 2008, reckons a continuance of the partnership that was blessed with highlights might have been a wrong move. “Did we have the ability to create a situation where we could have stayed together? Yes.
“Would it have been the right thing to do? I don’t think so,” said the dour man famed for his intractable attitude.
It was his team boss, Martin Whitmarsh, who has revealed they would have made Hamilton the richest racer of them all if he hadn’t quit to join Grand Prix mastermind Ross Brawn’s line up as the replacement for race legend and seven-time title holder Michael Schumacher.
Dennis insists, contrary to widespread belief, that he holds no grudges against the star from the humble background he shaped as a multi-millionaire world-beater. He said without the trace of a smile: “We do not wish Lewis every success — and that is understandable as he is obviously going to be a competitor. But we don’t wish him anything negative.
“Everybody asks : ‘Am I bitterly this or bitterly that?’ I am a realist. Life isn’t about one person deciding anything. It’s all about circumstances.
“And at the end of the day you end up with a situation where you are going to separate if the circumstances are not right.”
Sir Jackie Stewart, the all-time British racing hero, fears Hamilton may have made a disastrous mistake in deserting McLaren. “It is a risk — maybe one worth taking — and an emotional decision, but it may not be the right one,” said the three-time champion.
He added:”It is chancy because McLaren are in the business of Formula One. Major car manufacturers like Mercedes come and go. There is always the risk that if the Silver Arrows are not successful in their Grand Prix ambitions...in just five minutes there could be a board decision to cancel their F1 programme.”
The author is an expert on motorsport based in England